Friday, 20 December 2013

Seventy Two Years

In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, how long was Morpheus imprisoned? Gaiman gives a precise answer:

"...seventy-two years - ending in late 1988, when the series debuted."

- Hy Bender, The Sandman Companion (London, 1999), p. 235.

There is a hint of meta-fiction here. December 1988 is both when Gaiman's monthly Sandman comic book began publication and also when Morpheus resumed his activity in the world after a long, enforced absence. That absence is said to have begun in 1916 because Gaiman had decided that it was Morpheus' imprisonment that had caused the otherwise unexplained "sleepy sickness" that began in that year. It is strange, when reading about the unquestionably fantasy event of Morpheus' imprisonment, to be told that it is having observable effects in the public world of the Great War but it turns out that these "effects" are real, recorded events.

Morpheus' long absence explains why readers of DC universe continuity stories, which began to be recounted in 1935, have not heard of him before although they have encountered those inhabitants of his realm who previously hosted various horror titles. Thus, Gaiman retroactively makes his new series compatible with all the others, importantly including Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, which had recently revived Cain and Abel of the Houses of Mystery and Secrets.

Cain and Abel had hosted their Houses;
the Three Witches had hosted The Witching Hour;
Lucien had hosted Tales Of Ghost Castle;
a woman with a raven hosted Dark Mansion Of Forbidden Love;
Eve with a raven had appeared in Secrets Of Sinister House and Secrets Of Haunted House.

Thus, there were altogether four Houses (Mystery, Secrets, Sinister and Haunted, the latter two also with Secrets), one Castle (Ghost) and one Mansion (Dark). The Castle became Morpheus' while the women with ravens merged and retired to a cave. The Mystery and Secrets Houses remained in the Dreaming as way stations to Nightmare.

Having just reread the entire series, I am sure, without looking them all up, that I came across dialogue references to Morpheus having been imprisoned for sixty, seventy and eighty years, but this makes sense. People in conversation do not remember precise details and think in terms of round numbers. It would be very inauthentic dialogue in which every single person who referred to the lengthy imprisonment exactly remembered the precise figure of "seventy two years."

Probably many apparent inconsistencies in works of fiction can be ironed out if it is remembered that, even when they are not placed between inverted commas or inside speech balloons, most statements express a single character's point of view which is bound to differ from other povs. Thus, a medieval character in a historical novel by James Blish is said to "know" that comets are phenomena in the upper atmosphere. However, a contemporary novel and a futuristic sf novel complete the trilogy but their characters would not be said to "know" that about comets.

I am confident that Gaiman would deliberately write inconsistencies in his dialogues. In Worlds' End, he has the handsome cabin boy misquote a poem.

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